Conceptual Metaphor in the Buddhist “Wheel of Life”: Probing Universal and Culture-specific Aspects

Graduate Student Seminar on :

Conceptual Metaphor in the Buddhist “Wheel of Life” : Probing Universal and Culture Specific Aspects

Date: 30 May 2008
Location: Research Clusters Meeting Room A
Time: 0200 pm to 0330pm

Organized by Religion Research Cluster, FASS, NUS.


  • Tay Zhiming Dennis, Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore
  • About the Speaker: Tay Zhiming Dennis is a MA candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore.  He holds a BA (Hons) from the same department.  He is primarily interested in argumentation theory and cognitive linguistics, especially the role of metaphors in the conceptualization of scientific and religious discourses. For his MA dissertation, he is examining the relationship between concept systemization and rationalization, from a conceptual metaphor perspective. 



  • In this paper, I conduct a conceptual metaphor analysis of the “Wheel of Life”, a pictorial representation of Buddhist philosophical concepts. Abstract concepts that define our everyday realities (e.g. states, causation) are claimed by some to be metaphorically structured, and reducible to a universal set of primary metaphors (LAKOFF; JOHNSON, 1999), while argued by others to be structured by non-metaphorical cultural understandings instead (QUINN, 1991). Recognizing the need for empirical testing of the universalist claim, I analyze Buddhist conceptualizations of states-of-being, rebirth and event structure for their reducibility to primary metaphors. I show that while some concepts are reducible to universal primary metaphors, others might be constituted by culture-specific understandings instead. I also question the concept of primary metaphor itself, suggesting that supposedly universal primary metaphors already carry culturally-biased preconceptions, and urge the Lakoffian school to justify the assumed universality of subjective experiences which give rise to primary metaphors.

Please email Jack Chia at: if you are interested in attending .

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